India’s Combat Teaming Drones Emerge At AeroIndia 2021

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The Aero India show this week at the IAF’s Yelahanka air base already has its core flavour nailed — a mammoth and long-awaited deal for 83 LCA Tejas Mk1A and trainer fighters that will be signed during the show — but a quick jaunt around the stalls has thrown up something way, way more significant.

Hanging from the ceiling at HAL’s pavilion is an LCA Tejas bristling with munitions — many of them new — with an inaugural mock-up of HAL’s Warrior loyal wingman drone sitting on the ground below it.

The Warrior, part of the CATS (Combat Air Teaming System) family, broke cover in 2019 as the ‘Unmanned Wingman’ as a partnership between HAL and a start-up firm. The Warrior mock-up visible at the show this year is seen with an internal weapons bay deploying a DRDO Smart Anti-Airfield Weapon (SAAW), an indigenous stand-off munition recently tested from a Hawk jet trainer over the Bay of Bengal. The Warrior, structurally a sort of cross between Boeing’s Air Power Teaming System (ATS) and the Kratos Valkyrie loyal wingman drone system, is to be a teaming drone that functions with assets that will include the LCA Tejas as well as the Rafale.

The CATS family is an ambitious one that represents the IAF’s impulse to leap-frog many steps into a capability that’s making major strides in other countries. A member of the CATS family breaking cover in the HAL ensemble is the CATS Hunter, a SCALP-like cruise missile, as is the CATS ALFA-S switchblade swarm drone (being developed by HAL with New Space Research & Technologies) that was displayed at Aero India 2019 as a teaming system with a Jaguar weapons upgrade package by HAL called ‘Jaguar MAX’. The Indian Air Force is said to have expressed deep interest in the ALFA-S as a smart hunter-killer system.

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The ‘CATS MAX’ label next to the LCA Tejas in the above illustration indicates the fighter intergrated with the CATS interface that allows it to control the drones.

Aviation analyst Angad Singh says, “The highlight at HAL is definitely manned-unmanned teaming. Some rather enticing UAS concepts on display, from loyal wingman, to air-launched switchblade swarm drones, and cruise missile shaped air-launched wingmen! All centred on the LCA as HAL’s flagship product going forward.”

The Indian Air Force has been looking to make up for over over a decade of meandering wait-and-watch on technologies, big data and artificial intelligence, and is being helped along by a cluster of focused private start-up firms operating in the Bengaluru area, many manned by former IAF personnel with deep understanding of how leading edge tech melds into the IAF’s legacy assets and structures.

7 thoughts on “India’s Combat Teaming Drones Emerge At AeroIndia 2021”

  1. Another taxpayer paid pipe dream.we should atleast be realistic in reviewing these so called concepts on defense blogs unlike mainstream broadsheets whose reporters can’t differentiate between Su30 and a c130 as pointed out by the authors

  2. @SID I’d rather have my taxpayer dollars spent on futuristic clean-slate defence and space tech which have significant multiplier effects on the economy rather than screw driver tech driver integration work that has been the playbook of the past. It’s time for Indian defence to up the ante and make bold moves and to do that you need to back it up with our hard earened tax dollars. Kudos to the current administration for putting the money where their mouth is and increasing the budget outlay for Defence by 15%. Indian Defence outfits ( both public and private) have turned a significant corner w.r.t. mastering key foundational technologies which will accelerate the time to battle-field for these futuristic platforms. Great job Team India !

    1. I wish I could be as optimistic as you but you see I have already spoken to some IAF pilots who have access to the Tejas and they have very little positive to say about it. Infact if Tejas is to fly then its only going to be an asset to Pakistan and China. Because it will help their war effort with our money. Unfortunately in war the pilot with dabbas end up as prisoners or dead. Ask IAF , they have found that to their charging in Feb 2019. Instead of trying to pay salaries of babus masquerading as scientists and buying already old technology for high cost, lets encourage western aircraft makers with thought through order sizes to set up factories in India.

      1. Every pilot who flew Tejas has praised it not sure which pilots you have been in contact with. Tejas is going to be a stepstone for future fighter development for India.

        You have to start somewhere. US didn’t develop F-35 in their first attempt. Please take care and don’t worry!

  3. Hi Shiv,

    Living in US has advantages. However, it has certain disadvantages like missing the air show and I mostly depend upon you for the new stuff and discuss. Can you please get more of your articles on the show please.

    Thanks

    1. I am worried, this is unusual. This is the time when you are most active. However, this year you only had 1 article on the air show. Are you okay?

      Livefist Team ….please reply to this post and update me/us if SHIV is okay.

      Praying to hear from you soon.

      Thanks
      Raman

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